Toolpack: organizational development, surveys, and change

Organizational development in education: colleges and other schools

Greater demands on schools, coupled with more restrictions, mean it’s time for change — at every level of education. Fortunately, there are many tools for primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities. Most have been developed by academics, but have, ironically, mostly been used in the corporate world.

Process consulting

Meetings are a part of everyday life. Using a process consultant to find and resolve problems can quickly reduce conflict, increase effectiveness and speed, and increase the satisfaction of everyone involved. Indeed, process consulting is often “low-hanging fruit” and can energize people and prepare them for further changes.


A process consultant carefully intervenes in a group or team, and must:

Process consulting requires a client who is willing to listen and change some habits; is can be as difficult for the client as it is for the consultant, but the rewards usually far outweigh the efforts and risks. Many clients find the experience to be liberating in the end.

One of our assignments in a college slashed meeting times to one third of their prior length, while increasing effectiveness and greating increasing satisfaction with the committee. (Read more →)

Work-flow mapping  

process mapFrom the registration of students in higher education to the creation of report cards in secondary schools, there are many processes which can bring errors, wasted time, or dissatisfied people. Work-flow / process mapping helps people to cut the waste, improve the quality, and/or lower costs, while increasing student and staff satisfaction. (Read more →)

Change management

Helping institutions to implement changes (even those which most people agree are long overdue) can be problematic; planning change in a way that cuts destructive conflict, brings creative energy, and reduces resistance can save time and money, while bringing a better outcome. Our change preparation survey can be an advance scout to learn about obstacles and opportunities for savings up front. Increasing participation and involvement can usually enhance decisions and reduce resistance to change.

Strategic and performance indicators

Strategic and performance indicators can compare your school to peers; show trends; and help in planning. All involved parties, including students and the faculty, should participate in the selection of indicators. Wherever possible, new indicators should be compared to the college’s results in previous years, and to similar schools.

Once the indicators have been chosen, the figures must be made reliable; norms must be established (based on previous years or peers); and the indicators, their norms, and their implications must be clear. Ideally, strategic and performance indicators become part of the college’s planning process.

Strategic indicators may be set up for each area of a college, so that the Board and officers have one set, Student Services another, etc. A student fact-sheet that describes the characteristics of the student body is often helpful to the faculty and staff, including those at the lowest levels.

One of the most effective ways to use strategic indicators is as part of a balanced scorecard. There are many more details on strategic indicators on that page.

Role and responsibility charting

Mapping out each person’s roles and responsibilities is critical in education, where there are many constituencies, all of whom may claim responsibility for a task or decision. One way to do this is to set up a team of leaders from all groups, to find perceptions of roles or responsibilities (preferably not at the same time), and then clarifying which specific people handle each role. This can be a communication and conflict resolution tool as well.

A process consultant can help with the project without bias, increasing participation and acceptance of the results.

Role and responsibility charting can reconcile conflicts between groups, make decisions easier; increase shared understanding and cooperation, and prevent duplication of effort.

Surveys and data collection

Having good information can be invaluable for decision-making, consensus-building, progress-checking, and focused change; data can be linked to key outcomes so a cause-and-effect relationship can be shown. Surveys are one common tool; universities often have extensive free or nearly-free survey capabilities; those in other sectors of education can often make use of their outreach or internship programs.

Other forms of data collection include interviews, unobtrusive measures, and direct observations.


Unobtrusive measures can include anything from studies of memos and policies to old surveys to absenteeism, lateness, and other “behavior” records; turnover, accident, and grievance statistics; and performance information (productivity, costs, re-work, complaints, etc).

Simply observing people bypasses the problems of self-report measures: there can be no covering up, no false reports. People can discuss real, indisputable actions as they occur. For some techniques, such as process consulting, direct observation is necessary and a part of the process. Direct observation can be used to check the validity of other data collection methods (to reduce bias, observation should be done by someone who does not have an investment in a particular point of view).

Unfortunately, observation takes a great deal of time, preparation, and, therefore, money (except in experimental work where people volunteer their time). Unless the actions observed are defined very tightly and are very simple, interpretation and coding are needed. This takes time and adds the possibility of bias. There are also sampling issues: which people to observe, when and where to observe them, and whether the observer should be visible or hidden. The presence of the observer may change what is observed, but hiding presents ethical issues.

Interviews allow probing for deeper answers, elaboration, and examples, and immerse the interviewer into the social system for a greater understanding. Good interviewers can also elicit more honest and more sensitive information than surveys. By using interviews, future change agents can also introduce themselves and establish rapport and trust. However, they are expensive and prone to bias.

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Organizational development in education (colleges, universities, and other schools)